Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seismologist says earthquake triggered the Boudiccan revolt

"It was an awesome David and Goliath battle waged two thousand years ago that shook the Roman Empire.

And now, the riddle of Queen Boudicca's victory over her mighty foe on East Anglian soil has taken a new tumble and twist that could rewrite the history books.

A study by a leading archaeologist has revealed that a previously unknown earthquake shook the southeast of England at the time the Iceni tribe led their rebellion - bringing a sign of divine approval for Boudicca and a bad omen for her opponents.

Up until now, a series of bizarre events that allegedly took place at the time have been played down as exaggeration and allegory rather than taken at face value.

But British classicist Raphael Isserlin has re-examined the ancient texts and concluded that they are not simply classical literary devices, but descriptions of a serious earthquake that hit the heart of the religious and political capital of Roman Britain - Colchester.

BBC History magazine, which has published Mr Isserlin's findings, explains that the texts recall how the “statue of the goddess Victory in Colchester partly rotated and toppled over, how strange sounds were heard and how the sea turned blood red”.

Along with Dr Roger Musson, the British Geological Survey's most senior seismologist, Mr Isserlin believes these three events are likely to occur during a strong earthquake.

“The noise, a deep, dull sound could conceivably have been described as a strange moan or prolonged groan - often accompanies earthquakes,” Dr Musson told BBC History.

“The seawater change could result from seismic waves causing cliff collapses or destabilising sloping mud deposits which can muddy the water and transform the colouring of the sea.

The re-interpretation is significant because the Colchester area saw one of the country's most serious seismic disasters of recent centuries - a 4.7 magnitude earthquake which hit the town and surrounding villages in 1884.

Around 1,200 buildings were damaged and the event caused huge amounts of noise.

“The realisation that the phenomena, referred to in the classical sources as encouraging the British rebels, almost certainly refer to a real earthquake, means the events played a very real role in helping to trigger the Boudiccan revolt,” added Mr Isserlin."
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